He needed to not think for awhile, to lose himself in something. And in the absence of booze or sex, that meant work. Thankfully, his enlisted days weren’t so far behind him, not to know his way around a toilet brush. Even more thankfully, the people of Valhalla Station liked the lavatories clean, making his work less disagreeable.
In the field, the user squatted into a bucket with a toilet seat over it, which would be brought back to send to incineration. Here in the colonies, newcomers were often surprised to find modern flush commodes. Solids were separated and sent to incineration, augmenting the local power grid. Liquids and graywater went to reclamation. As he scrubbed, McGee sometimes grinned at the thought that he’d probably drunk the same water a dozen times over already.
“You know, you could probably get an exemption.”
McGee looked up to see Albert Bell, washing his hands nearby.
“Did you not hear me?” the doctor asked. “Or weren’t you aware?”
McGee finished with the toilet and began working on a nearby sink. “Ah. Hiya, Doc. Yes, I heard about duty exemptions. I chose not to pursue one. It’s not supposed to be what this place is about.”
Bell smirked. “Ah, yes. Liberté, egalité, fraternité.” He began lowly humming “La Marseillaise”.
“I’d guessed you wouldn’t be a subscriber to that philosophy,” McGee offered, polishing the mirror. “But you never applied for an exemption from security detail. Why not?”
Drying his hands, Bell looked thoughtfully at him. “I’m not sure. And I note now that you’ve never badgered me about turning up for rotation. In fact, no one has since your arrival. Why are you not slapping me in irons as we speak?”
“Well, firstly, I’m busy cleaning the necessary,” McGee chuckled. “Secondly, what purpose would it serve? We’d still be short on the duty roster, and short one chief medical officer. Everyone loses. But. I assume you signed the same pact that I did, promising to share in the menial responsibilities. To do otherwise invites us to create an underclass within an allegedly-free society. Doesn’t that trouble you?”
The doctor leaned against the sink, arms folded. “Class exists. It’s a fact of life. Centuries of attempts to eliminate it have only, ever, succeeded in replacing one set of bullies with another. You have advanced your status from commoner, to warrior, to governing class; and well done. But the price you pay for that advancement is your right to pal around with those you left behind. You are not a man of the people, Brigadier Daniel McGee.”
McGee stood, stretching his back. “Neither is anyone here. These are mostly scientists and other accomplished specialists. We don’t have any full-time professional maids or janitors, and if everyone played the exemption card, this facility would quickly come to resemble a gas-station shithouse.”
He sighed. He wasn’t up for this right now. “Look,” McGee said, “however you view me personally, I consider it my job to make your job easier. We want the same thing: as few customers in the infirmary as we can manage. I don’t have an answer for our dilemma, but can’t we at least have a truce?”
“Yes, please,” came a woman’s voice from a nearby toilet stall. “It’s been the most boring conversation I’ve ever been stuck listening to.”
As she punctuated her jab with a flush, McGee started laughing.